Ginza Bricktown and the Politics of Urban Reform in Early Meiji Tokyo

Ginza Bricktown (1872) is remembered today as an exemplar of Japanese efforts to rapidly modernize and Westernize following the Meiji Restoration. By constructing a district of Western-style brick buildings and paved streets at the center of the capital, the story goes, Meiji Government leaders hoped to demonstrate Japan's newfound progress to observers both foreign and domestic. Yet, this narrative elides the many political differences, conflicting demands, competing goals, and personal disagreements that obstructed attempts to transform the new capital after 1868.

Retracing how conflicts at both the national and local levels reshaped Tokyo urban space, this talk highlights widening rifts within the Meiji government over the meaning and direction of reform and modernization. Far from an exemplar of successful modernization during the Meiji Period, then, Ginza Bricktown was instead a stage where the volatile politics of the Meiji Period were played out in the urban space of Tokyo.


Tristan R. Grunow is Associate Professor of Modern Japanese History in the Japan-in-Asia Cultural Studies Program at Nagoya University. Previously, he was Associate Research Scholar at the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University, Assistant Professor without Review at the University of British Columbia, postdoctoral fellow at the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University, Visiting Assistant Professor at Bowdoin College, and a Fulbright Fellow at Hōsei University in Tokyo. His research charts the urban history of Tokyo during the Meiji Period. He is also the co-organizer of the UBC Meiji at 150 Project, co-curator of the Meiji at 150 Digital Teaching Resource and Hokkaidō 150 online platform, and host and producer of the Meiji at 150 Podcast, the Hokkaidō 150 podcast, and the Japan on the Record podcast series.


Watch the seminar recording here.


The ANU Japan Institute Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Government through the Australia-Japan Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  


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